Review: 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, a Family-Friendly Intro to Electrification
Is the plug-in hybrid version of the SUV worth the higher price tag?
Few vehicles out there come with a bigger asterisk than plug-in hybrids. These unique electrified autos tag in a larger-than-average battery to help power electrical motors alongside an existing gas engine, and are rechargeable via a wall outlet just like a standard EV. This makes them masters of versatility, with enough electric-only range to handle day-to-day driving (especially in stop-and-go urban traffic) while providing the security of knowing you won’t be stuck searching for a power-up on a road trip that takes you farther from established charging networks.
That being said, having a foot in booth worlds means plug-in hybrid electrics aren’t exactly a silver bullet for every driving scenario. That limited EV driving range transforms into a liability once the battery is drained dry and the vehicle is forced to lug around a heavy lithium-ion anchor with its gas engine (unappealing for those who aren’t able to balance things out by maximizing their electric-only miles in town). Throw in the fact that at-home charging is a must to avoid the hassle of tapping commercial plugs for repeated tiny top-ups, and you’ve eliminated a sizable chunk of buyers from the PHEV equation.
None of the above has stopped Jeep from making plug-ins a primary part of its electrification strategy, starting with the battery-enabled Wrangler 4xe and continuing with the porting of that particular drivetrain to the popular Grand Cherokee. On paper, it’s a perfect marriage: big power and reasonable around-town EV range wrapped in the model’s most appealing trim levels (including the off-road focused Trailhawk, which is 4xe-only for 2023).
In the real world, the implementation of the 4xe strategy is a little more nuanced than the Grand Cherokee’s spec sheet might have you believe. There’s a lot to like about what Jeep has accomplished with its electrified hauler, but whether the 2023 Grand Cherokee 4xe is the right choice for you will depend on how willing you are to accommodate — and pay for — this plug-in’s proclivities.
The quiet part of the 4xe’s ascension as the mightiest model in the Grand Cherokee’s lineup has been the axing of the Jeep’s 5.7-liter V8 option. Initially available after the SUV’s recent redesign, you’ll no longer find it lurking on the vehicle’s online configurator, and you’ll have to search early 2023 stock to locate a version built with eight cylinders under the hood.
From a purely practical perspective, the plug-in’s performance more than makes up for the absence of the V8 in nearly every important aspect. Its combination of a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine with a pair of electric motors produces 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are a stretch past what the older, thirstier motor was able to offer. Four-wheel drive is standard with 4xe models, and that extra grip helps the truck beat its big displacement sibling in a straight line, too. Only towing capacity is down in comparison, showing as 1,200 pounds less than the 7,200 pounds of trailering that were on offer from the Hemi.
The PHEV’s improvement on its V8 counterpart is more than just a muscle flex. Even on an empty battery, the Grand Cherokee 4xe turns in 23 mpg in combined driving, which is 5 mpg better than the V8 and a single mpg improvement over the (considerably more modest) entry-level V6. Of course, keep the Grand Cherokee charged up and you won’t have to hit up the fuel station at all, as it delivers 25 miles of EV range from its 17-kWh battery pack.
Real World Frugality
The 25-mile electric range is the key to the entire conversation surrounding the Grand Cherokee 4xe’s value proposition. On electricity alone, the Jeep was quiet, quick and comfortable, easily dispatching city driving duties at either end of a 350-mile road trip without the need to spin up the turbo sitting between its front fenders. Even with the battery nearly depleted, low-speed passage through parking garages and intersections was accomplished in near-silence (with only the 4xe’s pedestrian alert sound whirring its warning to anyone within earshot).
The challenge, of course, was keeping the truck charged when daring to drive outside the boundaries delineated by a home charger. It simply didn’t make sense to stop at a public plug and sit for two hours of Level 2 electron transfer to gain a meager 25 miles of motoring that would be instantly eaten up at highway speeds, and while I could plug in at home prior to my journey on the way back, I relied entirely on the vehicle’s “E-Save” mode (which charges the battery while underway using a combination of regenerative braking and the gas engine). E-Save also prevents the system from discharging its stored energy while underway, allowing you to keep it ready for use in EV mode once you’ve arrived at your destination.
It took me roughly four hours of driving at 70 mph over relatively flat terrain to top up the battery system from near-zero. I was concerned that tasking the hybrid system to tackle charging duty rather than focus entirely on fuel efficiency would have an impact at the pump, but I was surprised to discover that it made zero difference on the Grand Cherokee’s actual consumption. In fact, whether I was using E-Save or not, I saw a steady 24 mpg in nearly all types of driving (with a slight dip when driving city streets at less than one percent charge level).
Bucks and Brays
Given the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe’s power and performance, 24 mpg is a more than respectable measure. Add in the gas-free cruising enabled by those fortunate enough to have space at home for a charger, and the PHEV package proves even more enticing.
There are two caveats to the 4xe lovefest, however, that could crimp its appeal to some customers. The first is the scattered composure of its drivetrain, which often bucked, lurched and on one occasion loudly clanked its disagreement with the shift from one source of motivation to another. The hand-off between its gas engine and its electric motors was frequently clunky, and this intrusion into the cabin was joined by the occasionally strained buzz of its four-cylinder engine at work.
Although not unbearable, it’s certainly not as smooth as one would expect from a vehicle that carries the 4xe’s price premium. Given that the electrified drivetrain becomes accessible only when ordering the $60,000 Limited trim, you’ll pay roughly $18,000 more for the model when compared against the V6-powered entry-level four-wheel drive Laredo trim. From there things climb quickly: the hardcore Trailhawk model adds $5,000 more to the price tag, while the Overland ($69,000), Summit ($74,000) and Summit Reserve (just over $78,000) push up into luxury territory. Options also put a thumb on the pricing scale, as the Overland model I drove was equipped with enough comfort and safety gear to deposit an additional $10,000 on the window sticker.
Big Bucks to Avoid the Gas Station
The 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is a quick, reasonably efficient, and for those who keep its battery charged, potentially gas-free option for carting around the entire family. Overland-and-above models provide comfortable, almost plush accommodations, and now that Jeep has transferred its go-anywhere Trailhawk flag exclusively to 4xe territory, it might be time to start installing Level 2 stations at the trailhead.
The 4xe is also quite expensive, exacting a nearly-$10,000 penalty when compared against equivalent V6-equipped models, and once the turbo four fires up it drops any pretense of smooth, silent running in favor of an occasionally brusque character. Usually, a higher monthly payment guarantees a more premium experience, but in the case of the 4xe, the opposite seems to be true. For those without access to regular plug time to keep the truck’s more beastly side at bay, the trade-off might not be worth it.
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